(Urban) Homestead Act 2.1


Toodling around on the internet today I read Crunchy Chicken and got tipped off to what is quickly becoming quite a debacle. You might have heard the the folks at Path to Freedom® have trademarked a few terms – some legitimate and others more absurd, such as “urban homestead.” I’ll explain my stance on the issue.

First (and again), the term homestead is loaded with historical traumas. Some things come to mind are manifest destiny. The displacement of Indigenous People by force. Genocide. It is a history of white privilege and power. Current day the term is often seen as a movement of only positive things, such as practical, sustainable and environmentally sound principles. Ignored is the gentrification that often takes place as well as the white dominance of the movement. (Ed. note: I actually don’t know the race/ethnicity/culture of the Dervaes family. I am discussing the term homestead and its past/present use and not the Dervaes in particular.)

Garden Kitchen Growandresist

I further explained this in my initial post about the term homestead (bolded in this post for emphasis.)

The current “urban homestead movement” is a largely white dominant movement.  White folks are the people using the term homestead (and getting book deals and/or media attention,) not people of color.  When we white people take up a cause and then label it with a term that is offensive, painful, exclusive and ignorant of the historical implications– we have seriously fucked up.  It is the way we re-enact racism and play out micro-aggressions.

Plus, the urban homestead movement and its appeal to white dominant culture through the collective nostalgia for the pioneer days, invisibilizes the urban farming and collective resistance of people of color. There are countless groups, organizations, families and individuals doing phenomenal work, none of whom invoke the word homestead.   Will Allen (and Growing Power),  2 Brown Chicks Farm(check out their community based projects!), The People’s Grocery and Clean Greens Farm to name a few. Groups that are very active in food justice, edible gardening, sustainability, equality, outreach and community building.

These are the reasons that I am involved in urban farming/gardening, not to reproduce racism through my use of colonialist discourse.  Resistance to terminology such as “homestead” is resisting racist structures (language, history, power, knowledge) which are deeply intertwined with the global capitalist agro-industrial complex.

The Dervaes claim that the move to trademark urban homestead/urban homesteading was to protect their intellectual property and protect the fellow urban homesteaders from big corporations. But in doing so they have ostensibly gone against what they purport to believe in. The cynic in me sees this a capitalist land grab that will make them money selling the rights to the use of the terms. The action of branding a term that is commonly used as an action or lifestyle and includes the word homestead puts them squarely in the ranks of the global capitalist agro-industrial complex that serves to further uphold racist institutions.

So, let’s get to their terms. They outline proper acknowledgement for quoting, etc. that one would ordinarily do to attribute information. That is, of course, fine. However, they go on to say that they own:

numerous trademarks which should be properly acknowledged if used. These protected names and images include the following registered trademarks:

  • Also, THE TEN ELEMENTS OF URBAN HOMESTEADING copyright has been filed with the Library of Congress.

If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using. For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people’s projects, they should be referred to using terms such as ‘modern homesteading,’ ‘urban sustainability projects,’ or similar descriptions.

When using a phrase listed above to refer to the work of the Dervaes Institute, proper trademark usage should include the proper trademark notice [®], use the protected phrase in all capital letters, and note in close proximity that the term is a protected trademark of Dervaes Institute.

Ok, so I can get behind some of that. Path to Freedom®, Homegrown Evolution®, Grow the Future®, Little Homestead in the City® and the Ten Elements of Urban Homesteading©. Those are branding type names they have come up with – company names if you will.

Initially I imagined Laura Ingalls Wilder having a thing or two to say about the name Little Homestead in the City® – a play on words of her popular book Little House on the Prairie. But in talking with the Ladyfriend I realized a deeper complexity. Initially, we have an author capitalizing the genocide and land grabs of manifest destiny and writing her stories of homestead life. A century and half later we have a family capitalizing on a blog by trademarking a name that conjures up images of the book. And so it continues. Meanwhile, my head exploded from the complexity of it all.

And while I don’t and won’t use the term myself, my issue (and that of many others,) is that the act of trademarking the terms urban homestead or urban homesteading is wrong.

Urban homesteading is in no way their intellectual property. They didn’t create the knowledge of urban gardening. Or urban sustainability. People have been doing that since there were urban settings. Yes, the Path to Freedom® family have a business. Yes, they provide information as part of their business. Trademark away what is rightly yours. But they don’t own the ideals. People have been using the term to title their books and describe their homes, their properties, their lifestyles and who they are for a long time.

Perhaps I should run out and trademark Queer. I have a lot of knowledge in that area. I talk to people about it. The politic of it informs much of what I do and how I live my life. “Hi, I’m Meg. I’m Queer®.”

Oh yeah, I forgot. I didn’t invent Queer. Silly me.

Please also check out this post by the folks at Farmcurious for some further investigation!

Responses to (Urban) Homestead Act 2.1

  1.  hejemonster says:

    you can’t trademark queer, i’ve already submitted the paperwork! hah! nice work, i hope all sorts of people give you all sorts of hell because you speaking some truth here. way to go grow & resist!

  2. Love this Meg (as always.) And I’m totally trademarking gay ™. So don’t even think you can use it to even describe how happy you ever were.

  3.  Jennifer says:

    this seriously kicks ass! go girl go! way to resist, way to educate, way to contribute to change. keep up the righteous work!

  4.  Julia says:

    Love it, Meg. You rule.

  5. I’ve never liked the term “urban homestead” (note the lack of capitals or registered trademark sign… breaking the law! breaking the law!): always felt it was smary. Smug. Self-righteous. But I obviously didn’t follow those thoughts back to the logical conclusion – that “homestead” itself is a word associated with tragedy, with hubris, with self-righteous conviction. Thanks, Meg, for thinking it through, and pointing out why the term has always left me cold.

    As for the Dervaes? Never heard of ’em. (Obviously I’m not THAT crunchy.) But the whole keffuffle is, in a word, dumb. I can understand their wanting to TM the phrase, as it is the title of their website and intrinsic to their “business” (which business seems to be “freely” giving away a “wealth of information” for the low-low asking price of constant solicitations for money). I can’t understand the patent office approving this as intellectual property. I also can’t understand the Dervaes’ insistence that now a commonly-used term in the lexicon belongs to them, and should either not be used, or used only in conjuction with their name/trademark, nor their naive belief (if we are to give them the benefit of the doubt) that this wouldn’t upset anyone.

    People use trademarked names and phrases constantly in conversation: even formal publications like the NYT won’t use trademarks signs or attribution when using Band-aid, Kleenex, Frisbee. This bluster will die away, yet I wonder if the money-grubbing, self-serving stench that surrounds the Dervaes will fade as quickly.

  6. So you know, for the phrase “urban homesteading,” they only made it to the Supplemental Register for trademarks. This means the trademark examiner thought it was too generic a term and that it wouldn’t hold up in court.

  7. Fan boy alert (except I’m a girl):

    I always love your posts – truly admired your examination of the racial issues of using the term “homesteading” and I’ve included link to that in some of my other posts. Thanks for putting thought into this (I linked to you in my post – hope you don’t mind).


  8. Thanks all! Woot!
    Kaela – I had heard of them and their work, but wasn’t a follower of them. Their blog(s) always seemed to me “commercial enterprise” and less “hey, this is our blog and what we are doing.” Oogie.

  9. I’ve always felt the same way -first time I read it in print is here. My negative gut reaction has always been to people (children of the wealthy, typically) “pioneering,” but homesteading is all the same. An artist I had heard of was doing a vegetable growing project called “sharecropper.” When alerted to her ignorance of American history, she just ignored that and kept on using the title for the project -supported also by an arts organization here in NYC.

  10.  Inder says:

    Blech. I hadn’t heard this latest wrinkle. I took one intellectual property class back in law school, and I remember that you can basically trademark anything (like “queer”! go for it!), there is hardly any review (unlike patents, which are reviewed with strict criteria). The issue of the term being too generic will generally only come up if the trademark holder tries to “defend” the trademark against other people using it.

    If I weren’t already convinced by your prior post that the “sustainable urban vegetable gardening movement” (or whatever we are calling it) should abandon the term “homestead” entirely, I’d say someone should write them a scary lawyer letter saying that they believe the trademark is indefensible and they need to remove claims to it from their website. But you know, I don’t think I care. I say we let them have it, and all of its connotations, while we start over with better terminology.

  11.  MrBrownThumb says:

    Fantastic post. You brought up an issue that I hadn’t even considered yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  12.  Mana H says:

    Oh darn, now one can not refer to the Underground Railroad as the Path to Freedom.

    Sorry I’m not buying harassing people over words. The Dervaeses can try and deny they sent out “stop and pay up” letters, but the facts are unless someone forged Jules’ signature they sent out letters to a number of different people including a library. Over words they do not have unilateral rights to. The fact they are trying to cover their actions by more false actions is only making this blow up even more.

    Another day of watching someone on the internet self-implode.

    •  Inder says:

      Really? Man, suing people is a huge drag, and it costs a lot of money, I would never recommend it (I’m a lawyer, so listen up when I say I do not recommend it, right? this sentiment is not making me any money! :-)), but honestly, if they are trying to stop other people from using the term “urban homestead,” that would be a really easy case to win, against them. I kind of hope someone picks it up.

  13. Frank – oh wow, that is awful!
    Inder – Perfect. From now I insist that the word Queer be attributed to be, in all caps & trademarked =)
    MrBrownThumb – Thanks!
    Mana H – Seriously! And internet implosion…he should have seen it coming. But when someone is that self-righteous I guess they think they are above it all.

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  15. As a fellow suburbhomesteader(not trademarked), I think it is time to redefine it. Email me. We should collaborate.

  16. Personally, I have always felt the word to be a bit limiting but it is the movement not the word that should grab us. Sad that the D’s need to get to proprietary about it – silly and sad all at once.

    I myself use the word Householding – am fairly clear that it best defines the work I do. Even wrote a book about it – A Householder’s Guide to the Universe. A translation of the greek word for an economy means – To Manage Ones Household. I consider us residents of the earth household. All living creatures interrelated. But then I can get a bit heady about these things. So if another word might function in this movement’s lexicon I suggest Householding — I offer it up free and clear with clear recognition that the spirit of any great movement will not be “televised” and/or trademarked.

    •  Inder says:

      I like “household.” I also like “domestic economy,” with its historic connotations of womens’ industry and economic contribution (the work of the home and the kitchen garden, as opposed to the farm).

  17.  Ww says:

    What about all those pictures on their blog they use that are not theirs? Old canning posters and pictures, pictures of Little House on the Prairie, and many others. That’s copyright issues there. I hope the true owners of those pictures find them on their site without the proper credit, acknowledgment, or permission to use them on their blog.

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  19. This is probably the best article on the subject I’ve read. It’s so easy for white folks to get caught up in our white privilege and to totally miss that the “noble” thing we are fighting to protect, may not be so noble after all.

    I disagree completely with the actions of the Dervaes family, but considering the connotations of the work “homesteading” maybe the movement should learn their lesson too and let them have it and find a word for the movement that shows more justice and more accurately reflects the sustainability of the lifestyle…and you can’t have sustainability without justice.

  20.  Connie says:

    And where is the facebook like link ?

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  25.  Ellen says:

    Another word that I’ve been really uncomfortable about from the get-go is “Homeland”, as in Homeland Security. It’s just too loaded with land-grab® and/or Nazi-type connotations. There is a wealth of material to be mined in what’s behind that name and how it came to be. It’s almost laughably transparent as a call to fearmongering/patriotism.

    Whaddya think?

    Just another queer girl®

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  29. Nothing but a money making scheme. I unliked the Daevas family on my facebook page. Did you know a couple of months ago you could watch videos of them on their website and now you have to pay. I did a posting about (Urban) Homesteading and had to go back and change the name. I also have the video of them called (Homegrown) Revolution. I probably should just remove the whole posting. I know for sure I won’t mention them in any posting again because it’s free advertisement. It’s ridiculous that a common words like urban and homesteading can be trademarked. Then again Monsanto now thousands of patents on seeds. Who would’ve thought?

  30.  Oldfarmer says:

    I am sort of surprised that you would try to inject racism into a common term such as “Urban Homesteading”. You lost me there. I’m Native American and consider myself an urban homesteader. As far as Dervaes is concerned, sooner or later they are going to get their asses handed to them on a platter, because it is against Federal Copyright Law to copyright or patent a common, existing word. That will get challenged soon enough. As a fair warning to them: I use the word quite frequently and if Dervaes wants to come at me for it, they better pack a lunch.


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